State failing in duty on Lesotho border – Free State farmers

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Free State farmers are again headed for court over what they describe as a chaotic situation along the rugged Lesotho border. The Afrikaans daily, Beeld, reports today that the government has failed to live up to its undertakings in a June 2010 settlement that was made an order of court.

In terms of the agreement between the Presidency and a number of national and provincial government departments on the one hand and Vrystaat Landbou (VL, Free State agriculture) on the other, the state undertook to build a new border fence, repair a 487km-long border patrol road and deploy the police on patrols in the area. This has reportedly not happened to VL’s satisfaction. VL safety committee chairman Cobus Breytenbach says just some 50km of road was repaired and an unspecified amount length of fencing was replaced. VL now wants a judge to find the state in contempt of court.
“Alhough the government has compled with certain aspects of the original agreement, it is not living up to its responsibility to protect border farmers. A fence was erected, but it doesn’t help if it is not protected. It won’t even help if you built a wall here, because they will break it down.”

The VL also complain that they no longer see South African National Defence Force personnel along the frontier. A company was deployed to Wepener in the southwest Free State in April last year s part of Operation Corona.

Wepener farmer Stef Buys says about half of a 8km razor wire fence he erected at a cost of R30 000 was quickly destroyed by criminal elements crossing from Lesotho. Breytenbach adds he has private guards costing him some R25 000 per month. AS is, he as lost 25 sheep and an undisclosed number of cattle to rustlers in recent months. About 1500 hectares of grazing land on his farm is also to dangerous to use due to the risk of stock theft.

Other than stock theft, Lesotho nationals also continuously cross the border to cut down grass for their animals or graze their animals illegally on Free State land, both acts amounting to theft and the latter also posing a health risk to South African livestock and an economic risk to farmers and meat exporters.

The Ministry of Defence and Military Veterans last August said the 165 troops deployed to the Lesotho borderline was “sufficient” to meet the requests of the VL to combat stock theft and monitor crossings from Lesotho to the Free State and visa versa. It was responding to a Parliamentary question on the subject by Democratic Alliance MP DA Worth. The ministry added there were regular interactions between the military and the VL.

Pic: Two DA MPs at what is meant to be the border fence, 2009. Jaes Lorimer (left) and David Maynier